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Professional Learning Communities support student success

“We know too much about student learning to continue to work in isolation.”

It’s as simple as that, says High Plains Elementary Principal Derek Mullner, about his school’s decision to implement a Professional Learning Community, or PLC, this year.

“We know that the job of the teacher today is harder than it ever has been,” Mullner said. ”Teachers working together for the benefit of all of their students not only supports teachers, but it is really what is best for kids.”

At High Plains, every staff member is part of the school’s PLC.  

“Then we have subsets of collaborative teams,” Mullner explained. “Those subsets include our grade-level teams, our specialists and interventionists, and our English Language Acquisition (ELA) and Special Education departments.”

The PLC meets before school for 1.5 hours every other week. But first-grade teacher Anna Sanchez says collaboration continues around the clock with teachers sharing ideas, experiences and strategies for helping every student succeed.

“Collaboration is constantly happening,” said Sanchez. “In the hallways, in our team meetings.”

High Plains is one of 34 Cherry Creek schools working with the district’s Office of Professional Learning to implement the PLC model. The work is supported financially by the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, which funds initiatives that impact all CCSD students, invests in innovation and builds partnerships with the community.

The PLC work has proven so successful that the district will recommend to the Board of Education in April that the PLC model be adopted district-wide as a platform to support continuous improvement in every classroom for every student.

The High Plains PLC is focused on learning, collaboration and results.  The group’s work is driven by these four questions:
1.    What do we expect students to learn?
2.    How will we know if they’ve learned it?
3.    What will we do if they haven’t learned it?
4.    What will we do if they’ve already mastered the content?

Mullner says these components allow teachers to zero in on the skills that matter most, tie them to state standards and then bring in curriculum, rather than having curriculum drive instruction, as was the case in the past.

Sanchez says it gives teachers what they need the most – time and support.

“Teachers need time together – that time is so valuable to us,” Sanchez said. “Just being able to deeply talk about our students and the standards we are teaching is something we would do regardless, but when you’re given that time, and are allowed to focus, it’s so valuable. There’s also something that’s really powerful about students seeing their teachers collaborate.”

“I see huge differences when it comes to teachers being happy, working together and engaging in productive conflict,” Mullner said. “The PLC model has allowed that productive struggle to happen in a really nice and safe way. And in the end everything comes back to the kids and back to student learning.”

Mullner and Sanchez both believe that the High Plains PLC is positively impacting student growth and achievement.

“I had that discussion yesterday when I was meeting with our third, fourth and fifth-grade teachers as we were analyzing our ACT Aspire winter data,” Mullner said. “I’m just really excited to see what’s going to happen (long-term) because you see the day-to-day success.”

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